Catalonia's regional leader Quim Torra told Reuters on Friday that he wants to agree on a date for an independence referendum as part of talks with the Spanish government, arguing that the region's path towards secession is "irreversible".
Catalonia has been a dominant theme in Spanish politics since it briefly declared independence in October 2017 following a referendum deemed illegal by courts, prompting the country's biggest political crisis in decades.
Torra met on Thursday with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who rejects any move towards independence but agreed to hold talks with Catalonia's leaders to discuss the future of the wealthy northeastern region.
"We will be independent," Torra said in an interview at his 15th century regional government palace in Barcelona. He would not discuss a target date but said: "I am confident that the independence of Catalonia is absolutely irreversible."
Madrid has ruled out any independence referendum or amnesty for Catalan separatist leaders who were sentenced to jail or left the country after the botched independence declaration.
But Torra said he wants to discuss a date for an independence referendum and get results on both issues at a meeting later this month with the Spanish government, which Sanchez and he would chair.
"GO TO ROOTS OF CONFLICT"
Torra, who considers Sanchez should attend all the negotiation meetings, said the longstanding Catalan issue was not frozen but a "hot conflict".
"Let's talk on how we solve the roots of the conflict ... that means to let the Catalan people decide their own future democratically and peacefully," he said.
Talks between Madrid and the Catalan government were a condition set out by left-wing separatists from the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) party, who were instrumental in facilitating Sanchez's confirmation as prime minister last month.
The growing division among the two main separatist parties that rule the region - Torra's centre-right Junts per Catalunya and ERC - prompted Torra to announce a snap regional election last month. The earliest it can be is May. [
Torra said he will give a date for the vote the day after the Catalan budget is approved by the regional parliament.
He did not rule out the election being after the summer, which could benefit his party as it lacks a candidate and trailed ERC in recent votes.
Torra's own future is uncertain after over a year in office. He was sentenced in December to an 18-month ban from public office for refusing to remove symbols supporting jailed Catalan activists from government buildings and is awaiting an appeal.
Catalonia saw sometimes violent protests in October after nine separatist leaders were handed lengthy prison sentences.